Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Department of History
Amy L. Wood
This thesis examines the importance of late nineteenth century gender ideals and consumer practices in the development of the city of Bloomington in McLean County, Illinois. Most histories of not only Bloomington, but the greater Midwest, have focused on the rise of industry and business, and their effect on the development of the region. This study instead places women's social and cultural activities at the center of the story, and explains the significance of feminine consumption to the community's growth from a small frontier village to a Gilded Age city. While all of Bloomington's classes played a role in this growth, this study focuses on the lives of some of the town's elite women, since their sources offered the largest body of information, and contained the most prolific examples of the social and cultural changes occurring in the late nineteenth century. It explores some of the common forms of consumption in which these women engaged: clothing, homes and dÃ©cor, and social protocols and special events, all of which were predicated upon consumer display. Such consumer practices were not only vital to women's self-presentation, for they served as the performative means by which elite's upheld class and gender ideals, but were critical to the region's cultural expansion. Ultimately, although the industrialists, politicians, and businessmen may have created the town, this work posits that it was the townswomen who truly crafted Bloomington into a cosmopolitan community. Moreover, it argues that women's engagement in urban consumption practices helped to break down regional barriers, even as they created and maintained class divisions.
Storrs, Kera B., "Frontier Respectability to Gilded Age Splendor: Women and Consumerism in the Cultural Development of Bloomington, Illinois, 1839-1900" (2015). Theses and Dissertations. 375.